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HT Image

Past times on fast track

When dreams go a long way, history is made, writes Saibal Chatterjee.
By WIDE ANGLE | Saibal Chatterjee | PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JUL 05, 2005 05:01 PM IST

When K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam hit the screens the first time in the early 1960s, it had a huge effect on the hearts and minds of moviegoers across India. While the genre it sprang from died a natural death, the classic historical love saga lived on.

No wonder the impact of the second coming of Mughal-e-Azam last year in an all-colour avatar far outstripped anything that a freshly minted cinematic product could hope to match. The buzz it generated and the commercial success it achieved proved beyond an iota of doubt the viability of quality films that mined the past.     

The fallout is all too obvious. In the wake of the re-release of Mughal-e-Azam, a host of top-notch Bollywood directors with a demonstrated distaste for formulaic fluff have turned their attention to the pages of India’s history. If all the intended films do indeed materialize over the next year or two, Hindi movie fans could expect the rebirth of a form that went out of vogue several decades ago – the historical epic.

Aamir Khan in Ketan Mehta's Mangal Pandey: The Rising

Ashutosh Gowariker, on the heels of

Lagaan

and

Swades

, will probably be the first off the blocks. He is currently working on a script for a film on the life of the Mughal emperor Akbar and his Rajput wife, Jodha Bai. The proposed project would mark a complete change of scene for one of Mumbai’s most accomplished directors.

From the rural period setting of Lagaan  to the contemporary back-to-the-roots drama of Swades  to a recreation of the life and times of one of India’s greatest ever rulers – Gowariker’s creative journey is clear evidence that Bollywood’s better filmmakers are no longer interested in resting on their oars. A new narrative direction is the order of the day and it leads all the way back to the past.

As it promises to do in the case of Sanjay Leela Bhansali as well. He constantly experiments with genres and forms within – and, as in the case of Black, without - the format of popular Mumbai movies. The maverick filmmaker is now reportedly close to realizing the long-nurtured dream of mounting a historical epic, Bajirao Mastani.

Rajkumar Santoshi, better known for hard-hitting contemporary tales (Ghayal, Damini, Lajja, Khakee), is finalizing the details of Prithviraj Samyukta, a subject that seems to have Chandraprakash Dwivedi (of Pinjar fame) interested as well. The heartening aspect of this unfolding scramble to rake up hoary raw material is that it isn’t over some Hollywood blockbuster but over stories culled from the meat and substance of India’s historical past.

Although an influential segment of the Bollywood dream factory still wallows in mediocrity in its quest for box office success, churning out glossily packaged but inherently vacuous flicks for mass consumption. But happily, a band of boys with an approach quite their own is clearly beginning to rewrite the script.

Ketan Mehta is no longer a boy, of course, but he still has a certain youthful energy that makes him eminently qualified to reclaim the ground he has lost over the years. The maker of such masterpieces as Bhavni Bhavai, Holi and Mirch Masala subsequently lost his way in the maze of commercial Hindi cinema. But now that he is poised to bounce back with Mangal Pandey: The Rising, hopes have been rekindled.

Mehta has already announced his intentions of directing films on the lives of the Rani of Jhansi and the last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar. Interestingly, the producer of Mangal Pandey, Bobby Bedi, too, is in the throes of planning a grand trilogy on the Mahabharat to be directed by Mani Ratnam.

Despite all the churning that is taking place in the innards of Bollywood, inane love stories, turgid tearjerkers, derivative action films and skin flicks and are unlikely to lose their box office appeal overnight. These films do give the common film going masses their money’s worth. But with releases like Black and Parineeta hitting it off with viewers, it is becoming increasingly clear that Bollywood is on brink of a major paradigm shift.

How long this process will take to play itself out and assume a final shape will depend entirely on what the likes of Bhansali, Gowariker, Santoshi and Ketan Mehta manage to achieve with their upcoming dream projects. The Mumbai film industry has always peddled dreams, often with great success, but when dreams are rooted in a creative filmmaker’s innate passion for his craft, they assume a special edge.

When dreams go a long, long way, history is made. These are exciting times indeed for Bollywood.

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